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What are the best practices in air to help others see our aircraft?

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  • $\begingroup$ transponder maybe? $\endgroup$ May 26, 2018 at 22:57

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Transponders, ADS-B (which, honestly, is pretty much just an outgrowth of transponders) and exterior lights have already been mentioned. I'd like to add one more thing: speak up!

You've probably got a microphone right in front of your mouth, which is ultimately connected to a radio transmitter which is hopefully tuned to a frequency monitored by nearby aircraft.

To help make yourself more visible to other aircraft, press the transmit button and give your location and intentions, to let them know at least one place where they should look.

As a real-world example, another pilot did this the other day as I was in the air, saying something like "XX Radio, SE-XXX on downwind 21, for touch and go". My instructor took the opportunity to quiz me about where they should be given that, and they were pretty much exactly where I expected them to be. Not only did we now know where they were (position and, by inferrence, approximate altitude), which we could have known by looking for other traffic, but we also knew what they were planning to do. In this case, there was no risk of a traffic conflict between us, but you never know who else is out there.

Unless the traffic situation is congested, or there's something like emergency traffic going on, the occasional radio call with your position and intentions can do little but help others.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for self announcing at non-towered airports. I've surprised others by calling out I was #3 for landing. #1 had never announced, #2 had heard me calling in and had seen #1 but thought it was me. I was both of them obviously. $\endgroup$
    – CrossRoads
    May 27, 2018 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ @CrossRoads I'm not sure what you're saying; are you saying it'd be a good strategy to deliberately give misleading information? If so, then we are in disagreement, even if it doesn't materially change the situation (in the case you mention, because there is no #1 and #2 in line for landing while you report being #3). There's probably an applicable rule, too. If, say, I am entering the traffic pattern and someone calls out being #3 and I can only see one aircraft and not hear any others on the radio, it could certainly throw a wrench into my plans until I'm able to confirm what's going on. $\endgroup$
    – user
    May 27, 2018 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ I was aware of the 2 planes ahead of me - I saw them both in the pattern. The 2nd plane (with it turns out was a student pilot & instructor) in the middle was not aware of the 1st plane in line. When I called out that I was #3 for landing, they were were surprised, and started looking and soon located the plane in front of them. So no misleading - just me being more on top of the situation than others. $\endgroup$
    – CrossRoads
    May 27, 2018 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ Ah - I see the typo in my earlier comment, "was" vs "saw". $\endgroup$
    – CrossRoads
    May 27, 2018 at 20:53
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Depends on the situation. For day operations, a minimum of an operational anti-collision light system must be used, but in general it is difficult to beacons or strobes in daylight prior to spotting the aircraft as a whole. Night ops are much easier where one can use navigation and anti-collision lighting to readily be seen and identify other aircraft at a distance.

The Aircraft Owner’s and Pilot’s Association (AOPA), in conjunction with the FAA and other regulating bodies, instituted a safety improvement program called Lights On Look Out, which makes use of the aircraft landing lights when operating within Class B, C and D airspace at or below 10,000 ft ASL. This is a very effective way to make the aircraft more visible to other pilots, provided the aircraft configuration can accommodate this. Some aircraft actually make use of pulsing or strobing landing light modes intended for day use. It is also extremely effective to make use of landing lights when maneuvering or flying in confined spaces like mountain valleys for easier identification and collision avoidance.

Another way to make ones self more readily visible is to be aware of blind spots which all aircraft have, depending on the configuration. High wing aircraft block a great deal of the upper field of view just as low wing aircraft make it difficult for a pilot to see what’s under them. Care therefore must be taken when turning or maneuvering to first clear blind spots around the aircraft by rolling slightly, scanning the airspace you are about to turn towards, then turning. Aircraft therefore should exercise extra caution when descending to land for aircraft below them which may not be immediately visibile, yet in danger of overtaking and colliding with them. Proper, established pattern entry techniques should be used when possible to allow other pilots in the pattern to easily identify aircraft entering or leaving the pattern and pilots should have descended to pattern altitude within 3 miles of the airport. This is especially true during operations from untowered airports where all traffic may not be using or transmitting on the CTAF. Proper radio calls should be used at said untowered airports to allow other traffic to more readily identify the block of airspace you are in and visually acquire you.

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Have your lights on: Red beacon light on the fuselage or tail, white light on the tail, Red & Green navigation lights on the wings, strobe lights on the wings, and your landing light(s).

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Being equipped with ADS-B is also good. Other aircraft with ADS-B In will see you on their electronics and be looking for you.

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